Minnesota’s soccer team gathered near midfield following Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Illinois at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
The players listened to the comments from coach Barbara Wickstrand and then wandered away to stretch, visit family members and, of course, contemplate what could have been.
All three of the Illini’s goals came on plays Minnesota could have prevented, and the loss left many Gophers angry.
Combined with Friday’s 2-1 win over Northwestern, Minnesota (5-5-1, 2-4 Big Ten) earned a split over the weekend and, with four Big Ten games remaining, still controls its own destiny in making the conference tournament.
“We were with them,” captain Amanda McMahon said Sunday. “We didn’t make adjustments.”
The Gophers scored first when Amanda Edwards knocked in a rebound following Becky Dellaria’s shot. Dellaria’s shot hit the top crossbar and rolled to Edwards, who scored her first goal of the season.
But Illinois answered only 18 seconds later when Andrea Ridgeway scored past Gophers goaltender Karli Kopietz.
Wickstrand called the goal a “mental lapse.”
Illinois, atop the conference with a 4-0-1 Big Ten record, scored twice in the second half.
The Illini’s second goal came after the Gophers failed to stop the ball from entering their zone, missing two chances to end Illinois’ rush.
To complete the scoring, Illinois’ Tara Hurless beat Kopietz to a loose ball at the edge of the 18-yard box. Kopietz dove feet-first and failed to jar the ball loose from Hurless’ possession.
“I don’t think any of their goals were good,” Wickstrand said.
Another problem for Minnesota was fatigue. The Gophers appeared tired in the second half, struggling to make crisp passes and jumpstart the offense.
“We need to be more fit,” Wickstrand said. “It definitely is an issue right now with the kids banged up.”
Sunday’s loss in front of 745 fans dampens what was a solid start to the weekend.
When looking back on the season, Friday’s 2-1 win might be viewed as a turning point.
Not only was it Minnesota’s second Big Ten win of the season, but it topped last year’s total of one.
“We put it together for the whole 90 minutes,” defender Jen Cressman said. “We have talked about getting it right this season, but until (Friday) we didn’t have the results.”
The Gophers practiced all week on the offensive aspect of their game. However, Minnesota trailed 1-0 only 11:25 into the game after Northwestrn’s Aileen Guiney scored on a dead ball shot just outside the 18-yard box.
Instead of collapsing – which happened earlier in the season – Minnesota answered.
Dellaria beat Wildcats goaltender Whitney Jones to the ball and easily scored at the 14:50 mark.
The Gophers scored again at the 38:11 mark when Haley Lentsch’s shot hit Jones’ outstretched hands and bounced in.
But it was the Gophers’ defense that saved the game after Northwestern turned up its pressure with 20 minutes remaining.
Cressman made two game-saving stops, the biggest coming with 19 minutes left.
After Kopietz made the initial save to her right, the ball rolled to the left side of the goal.
Wildcats forward Tabitha Lowey was in position to kick it in, but Cressman swiftly blocked the shot. The ball sailed out of bounds, preserving the victory and ensuring at least one win over the weekend.